Grand Understanding

Development in the Grand Canyon should not continue, and further more, the areas of wild habitat are decreasing in the world. Even if a location is not determined to be a “natural wonder,” we should still work to protect and conserve these places. The human population is rapidly expanding. As humans begin to sprawl across all corners of the world, our demand for resources likes food, water, and housing increases, putting a strain on the natural environment. However, our increasing population also increases our demand for natural places as an escape from the bustle of urban living.

As a species and as a nation, we need to value the remaining natural space in the world and make preserving these places a priority. The best way to do this is to focus on local projects. For Arizonians, we are lucky to have one of the natural wonders of the world in our backyard: the Grand Canyon. I grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is a short drive from the Grand Canyon as well as many other natural formations. When I needed to escape from my stresses—piles of homework, upcoming tests, family chores, job shifts, and drama of friends—I would either go hiking or camping. Many times, my destination was the Grand Canyon.

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The first time I descended into the canyon was with my father and older brother when I was twelve years old. We began meandering down the South Kaibab Trail at sunrise. I lugged a pack about the size of my body on my back, as I trailed behind my family. The trail followed the ledges of cliff faces, snaking back and forth. At times, there would be a 700-foot drop to my left and a tall wall to my right. I had never been too scared of heights, but it was definitely to be concerned with life back at home when a misstep could send me tumbling to my death.

While the adrenaline pumped through my veins at the steep sections, I was filled with an amazing sense of perspective while hiking this canyon. I began to understand how small I was and how ephemeral humans are. The Colorado River was patient, persistent. Over the course of hundreds of millions of years, this river grinded, removing one bit of rock at a time, until finally, a flat piece of land became carved into a magnificent piece of art. I had barely witnessed a decade of life. When we reached a camping spot, I remember becoming tired after watching a spectacular sunset, which painted the canyon walls in a mixture of gold, orange, and red.

My natural clock suddenly clicked into sync. Looking up, a narrow strip of stars would beam down on me, as the canyon walls were a silky silhouetted black. I would count them as I fell asleep. I had always been exposed to environmental issues through my parents, friends, and teachers; however, none had really stuck me as personally as my river trip my freshman year of high school. A group of y friends and I took a trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon Youth—a non-profit organization dedicated to getting young people outdoors.

The Grand Canyon is like a measure of understanding and knowledge. The millions of visitors that visit the South Rim each year get a quick, shallow glimpse of how truly amazing this place is; the people who hike to the bottom understand the depth; and the few people who get to float along the river know not only the depth, but also, the expanse of the canyon—the nooks and crannies. While I floated along the river, I sprawled out on the raft like a lizard soaking up the sun’s rays. I watched the canyon walls as I drifted lazily along the river. The breeze would brush my skin and I could smell the dry, earthen scent along the bottom of the canyon. I saw big horned sheep, California Condors, Humpback Chubs, and many other creatures.

The only sounds that bounced around were the calls of birds and the roars of distant rapids. I had the opportunity to reflect with both my friends and by myself. Without the canyon, I would not have the same values I have today. Overall, my trip was amazing until I passed over a very theoretical, yet very physical border. This was the border between the National Forest and the Hualapai Reservation.

My serene silence was shattered by the echo of helicopters chopping overhead—drowning out the sounds of the rushing water. Every 15 minutes, a chopper would cruise past our boat, flying well below the canyon walls. Looking up, I saw a structure that looked strikingly similar to a toilet seat poking out from the top of the cliff. This was the Grand Canyon skywalk. The river also became both incredibly wide and slow.

The water turned from a silty brown to a deep blue, as the river dropped its sediment. We were approaching Lake Mead; however, it was not really a lake, but a reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam. Unintentionally, I was forced back into civilization and society. The Colorado River had never been completely rafted until John Wesley Powell took a brave group of men down in the year of 1869. In this short amount of time, humans have managed to completely change the environment of the Grand Canyon through the building of the Glenn Canyon and Hoover Dams, as well as the adoption of policies that allow helicopters to tour the lower section of the canyon. This has had a profoundly negative effect on the wildlife there as well as the ecology of the Grand Canyon.

Now, the Hualapai are proposing to build a gondola down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. While many people would argue that this is good because it would offer the Indian tribe a new source of revenue and allow more people to experience the canyon. However, this is not true. This would simply offer tourists a second view of the canyon—the bottom versus the top. The understanding I developed from my time in the canyon came from the amount of time I spent there and the struggle I put in hiking the canyon step by step.

Putting in a gondola will not streamline this understanding; it will skip it. While economically it would benefit the tribes, this gain would only help a small amount of people. We cannot afford to make the Grand Canyon a theme park. Once people view it as such, people will take it less seriously. The complexity and exceptional meaning of the canyon will be lost. Beyond the ruining the spirit of the canyon, building a gondola and further developing the canyon will introduce more invasive species into the ecosystem.

Visitors from around the world will be carried down the canyon, and seeds caught in the shoes or on their pants will become rooted in the canyon. To help endangered species, we must consider preserving the canyon. Developing our natural environments is like many addictions. Once we start building and developing, it is difficult to stop. We are not likely to tear down buildings that we have made because it would be viewed as a waste of resources.

We need to stop and think before we develop, so that we do not become addicted to the economic benefits because there are costs involved in other areas. Development in the Grand Canyon should not continue, and further more, the areas of wild habitat are decreasing in the world. Even if a location is not determined to be a “natural wonder,” we should still work to protect and conserve it. Therefore, we must strive to protect our local natural environments—because if we don’t, who will?